Frequent Questions

Civil action attorney and court fees, awarding of fines

A waste treatment facility has a release of chlorine above the reportable quantity.  The facility owner or operator did not make initial notification of the release as required under EPCRA Section 304.  In addition, the facility owner or operator also refused to submit a written follow-up regarding the release of chlorine.  Under EPCRA Section 326(a)(1)(A)(i), any person may commence a civil action in the U.S. District Court against owners/operators of facilities for failure to submit the EPCRA Section 304 follow-up report under Section 304(c).  If a citizen wants to bring the case to court, will she/he be responsible for the attorney and court fees?  Will she/he receive any of the money from fines collected?

EPCRA Section 326 (f) states that: "(t)he court, in issuing any final order in any action brought pursuant to this section, may award costs of litigation (including reasonable attorney and expert witness fees) to the prevailing or the substantially prevailing party whenever the court determines such an award is appropriate."  In addition, EPCRA Section 326(c) states that: "(t)he district court shall have jurisdiction in actions brought under subsection (a) against an owner or operator of a facility to enforce the requirement concerned and to impose any civil penalty provided for violation of that requirement."  Therefore, the court has the authority to impose penalties for violations of a requirement and to award costs of litigation, as appropriate, to the citizen who brought the suit.  However, any civil penalties assessed by the court for an action brought under EPCRA Section 326 must go to the U.S. Treasury. Actions brought under State statutes may have different arrangements for penalty distribution. Thus, a citizen suit under EPCRA Section 326 does not allow for penalties to go to the complainant.

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